Friday 23 March 2018

Gibbes praise for Leinster ability to roll with punches

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JONO Gibbes is a huge man -- so big that his frame offered some brief shelter for several journalists during the ill-timed spring showers that arrived as Leinster gave their press briefing in a south Dublin carpark yesterday afternoon.

The Leinster forwards coach won eight caps for the All Blacks. He also captained the Maori when they beat the 2005 Lions and to Churchill Cup success in 2006, and made 68 appearances in Super Rugby for the Chiefs, appearing in the second-row and back-row.

He was known as a tough operator who never gave an inch on the field, but having watched Leinster's Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Leicester last Saturday, he says the level of impact on the rugby pitch has moved on from his playing days, which only ended three years ago.

Gibbes added that although he wouldn't have fancied taking the hits himself, he was happy with his charges' efforts.

"I don't think I would have fared too well out there," he said. "I fringed my way through for quite a long time.

"The collisions are getting bigger and the boys can be proud of the way they won the majority of those collisions.


"The general effort by the forwards was good. They were pretty honest with how they laid their bodies on the line.

"That's what needed to happen against Leicester. They're all pretty beaten up but we move on now and focus for Saturday for an inter-pro game. There's going to be a bit of heat in that game too."

Ulster may be next up for Gibbes' charges, but much of the buzz in Donnybrook yesterday surrounded Toulouse and the Heineken Cup semi-final looming just over the horizon.

It's a rematch of last year's semi-final, but the big difference is Leinster have home advantage this time around.

The pack were well and truly beaten up on that day in France, but having overcome the Tigers at the Aviva Stadium, Leinster look in a better place for this season's assault on Europe's most successful club.

There have been suggestions that Guy Noves' side are over the hill, but Gibbes doesn't agree and feels they are just as dangerous as ever.

"I don't think so," he said. "They've got a pretty experienced coach there and he knows how to juggle his roster and move players on and bring players in, so I doubt he's going to be stuck with a team that's over the hill.

"They're pretty tough and obviously it's a quality roster they've got. It's going to be a big challenge in a couple of weeks' time. The French have a proud history in the Heineken.

"It didn't matter who it was going to be, but that seems a good way down the track. We've got a big game on Saturday night, to be fair."

Leinster blindside Kevin McLaughlin reckons the hard-fought win over Leicester will stand to the Blues when they welcome the European champions to the Aviva Stadium on April 30.

They are unbeaten at the redeveloped stadium and the list of teams beaten -- Munster, Clermont and Leicester -- is an impressive one. But the 26-year-old Irish international reckons they will need to up their game again in order to beat the Frenchmen.

"Their pack isn't all that different to Leicester in that they have a very strong set-piece," he said.

"They killed us in the scrums last year and they have a real strong line-out as well.

"On top of that they pretty much have the French three-quarter line so it is going to be a serious test.

"It is another step up. Toulouse have seriously strong players from one to 15 and we are going to have to up our game from Saturday if we are going to beat them in the semi-final.

"We know what it is like to play them in a semi-final, having been beaten fairly comprehensively by them at that stage last year, so we know what's needed."

Although the starters from Saturday were given a rest yesterday after the bruising collision, Gibbes alluded to the fact that it will be all hands on deck this week for the visit of Ulster to the RDS, where Leinster will be looking to move ever closer to securing a play-off spot.

Shane Jennings is expected to come back into the squad, while injury worries over Brian O'Driscoll (nose), Gordon D'Arcy (shoulder) and Isa Nacewa (foot) are not expected to keep them out.

Irish Independent

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